GAWU President May Day Address 2016

Introduction

On behalf of FITUG, I greet all workers here on this important red-letter day of the international working-class. We join the millions in some 80 countries who, like us, are celebrating this day and reflect on their history, their ongoing struggles and their future.

This year, we pleasingly acknowledge that our two (2) union blocs stand united in celebrating Labour Day. This is an important milestone in our history. Hopefully, it is a new beginning to bring about enduring unity at the Trade Union level based on a fair, just and democratic foundation. We of FITUG share the view that unity is essential in order to effectively safeguard our gains, expand our achievements and realise our working-class aspirations. As a major segment of our population, the unity of our ranks will surely impart strength to our expectations that we be consulted; that we be involved on matters of national importance and the development of our country.

FITUG sees good prospects ahead for strengthening this Unity. If our two (2) bodies have the will, it can surely happen.

Celebration of this day must unavoidably make us recall its origins. It has its beginnings in the fight for an eight (8) hour work-day. A major struggle in 1886 involving some 80,000 workers took place in Chicago, USA. Several of the leaders of that struggle were sent to the gallows, scores were arrested and imprisoned, but that heroic struggle inspired the Second International, a Socialist Organisation, to adopt a resolution in 1887 for May 1st to be observed as International Workers Day. Since then, many Governments have approved May 1st as a National Holiday.

Here, the British Guiana Labour Union, under the leadership of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, began the tradition of May Day way back in 1930. But, it was not until 1958 that it was approved as a National Holiday.

International Situation

As in recent years, May Day 2016 finds our world a troubled place with grim realities. Under various pretexts wars of aggression have laid waste several countries; millions have been uprooted from their homes and facing starvation and there is widespread destruction and death. More wars, it seems, are in the making. Poverty is claiming numerous victims by the day. Developing countries have their resources looted. In Europe, particularly, unbearable burdens are piled onto the backs of the workers by their ruling-classes. Extremist forces have sprouted anew in some countries while, in others, we see the promotion, even imposition, of a breed of so-called leaders subservient to the powers that be. And, on top of all this, nature is sending us its dire warnings that our planet and humanity face severe threats.

It is instructive to note that the financial/economic crisis that has gripped world since 2008 is still around. It is a crisis that has left the working peoples poorer and the ruling economic elites richer. Oxfam tells us that the fortunes of the world’s sixty-two (62) richest persons are as much as the poorest half of the world.

Comrades, we cannot fail to empathize with those who unduly suffer, the poor, the victims of wars, conflicts and starvation. On this May Day let us extend a hand of solidarity to the exploited and the oppressed, to the working-class, democratic, liberation and peace forces the world over. We express solidarity with Socialist Cuba a dear friend of Guyana and to the progressive and democratic forces of Brazil, Haiti, Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia and other countries of our region who are pushing back against the intrigues and destablisation activities of reaction.

Comrades, this May Day we in FITUG are preoccupied with several matters of which impact the work and life of workers and, indeed, the working-people generally. 

Local Government Elections

We take note that Local Government Elections were held at last and wish to congratulate the newly elected councillors and call on them to serve selflessly in the interest of their electors. There are many important tasks to attend to and we expect the best from them. Importantly, we also expect the establishment of the Local Government Commission without further delay and the full compliance with the Fiscal Transfers Act.

Collective Bargaining

On this Workers Day, we must again emphasize our displeasure at the disrespect shown to Collective Bargaining, a revered Trade Union/Employer engagement, which was denied to the GAWU last year (2015). GuySuCo a few weeks ago unilaterally and bluntly told the Union “that at no time it would offer an increase for 2015”. The Government’s promise of Collective Bargaining with Unions in the public service after almost one (1) year has not been fulfilled. Collective Bargaining helps to establish healthy worker-employer relationships. From this Trade Union platform we urge the authorities to ensure that this commitment for Collective Bargaining is honoured.

National Minimum Wage

Comrades, when the National Minimum Wage was implemented in 2013, we heartily welcomed it. It meant that no worker in the private and the public sector would be paid less than $202 per hour. But the rising cost-of-living and increased taxes, among other things, now require adjustments which we expect the authorities to act on.

Crime

Another vexing issue that is of concern to us, our communities and people from all walks of life is the crime situation. Clearly we are experiencing yet another spike in criminal activities. The violent dimensions and frequency of occurrences have raised concerns and anger at every level of society. We of FITUG believe the situation is very serious. We need assuring results and the relevant authorities need to regularly review their tactics to contain, reduce and eventually stamp out this menace from our midst.

Sugar Industry

Comrades, in a matter of mere weeks our nation will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of our Independence. This year will also be the 40th Anniversary of the sugar industry’s nationalisation. As we reflect on the journey we took as a nation we should not leave out consideration of the sugar industry and its importance to the nation. With this in mind, we feel peeved that the industry’s workers are nowadays being treated in a disdainful manner.

It is lamentable that for the first time in over three (3) decades, the thousands of workers did not obtain a wage adjustment. GuySuCo bluntly refused to discuss pay rise for 2015. Such refusal to engage in Collective Bargaining speaks volumes and of course is a violation of laws, international conventions, and our agreements. Not only sugar workers, but indeed, all workers should express indignation over this development. Let us halt it before it spreads. Comrades, issues, like Collective Bargaining require our collective action and effort. Additionally, the GAWU believes that the state has a duty to ensure that its employees in sugar are not unreasonably compensated especially since other state employees have deservingly benefited from a pay rise.

This Labour Day is an appropriate time to recall that thousands who are linked to Wales Sugar Estate have the threat of joblessness and greater hardships hanging over their heads. The closure decision is a step in the wrong direction especially in the absence of any impact assessment and in view of the Sugar CoI’s explicit recommendation that no Estate be closed. Our Union urges the relevant authorities to act wisely and not proceed to close Wales. We say:- Put the well-being of our working people foremost in your consideration.  GAWU also urges that a similar assessment be done with respect to the present operations at LBI Estate where the consequences of closure for the workers are also great.

Comrades, the sugar industry’s state of health and performance are, naturally, of great interest to us.  We believe the challenges the industry faces are not insurmountable. Sugar’s success will redound to the benefit of our economy and assure the employment of thousands of Guyanese. A key factor for success is GuySuCo’s ability to grow a sufficient quantity of good-quality canes. We have adequate land for that. And, given today’s trends, with good management, a satisfied labour force and innovations, the industry can certainly regain its profitable status in a short while.

The promising prospects suggest that the authorities must abandon consideration of closure and the state must reassure workers, tangibly, that it stands with them. 

Conclusion

Comrades, as we celebrate May Day 2016, we are mindful of the arduous path we travelled and the objectives before us. We still have many battles to fight. Today, bread and butter, security and democracy issues are foremost concerns. As workers, we need to be more assertive in demanding our rights. We must be active, involved and united if we are to score more victories, expand on our gains and attain our goals.

Conditions today call for our active engagement. Let us join with the working-peoples of the world to usher in a new day for us and for mankind. We seek a world order which is founded on peace, ecological responsibility, social and economic justice, and free of oppression and exploitation. In Guyana, let us strive for a just society where people not profits are of primary concern.

At this time comrades FITUG sends May Day greetings to all our workers, indeed to all Guyanese.

 

Long live May Day!

 

Long live Proletarian Internationalism!

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